Arab League Failing over Darfur


By Cam McGrath

Inter Press Service
August 21, 2004

The Arab League's failure to take firm action towards ending the humanitarian crisis in Sudan has cast serious doubts on the ability of Arabs to manage their own regional affairs, say analysts.

"Arab governments must take serious steps to stop the (Arab Janjaweed) militias which are targeting civilians in Darfur," says Hafez Abu Sa'ada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights. "This is a crisis that calls for real intervention and if they (Arabs) don't have the ability to stop it then they must accept foreign help."

The UN has described the conflict in Darfur as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world at the moment. It estimates up to 50,000 people have died and 1.2 million people forced from their homes since government-backed Janjaweed militias began attacking rebel groups based in Darfur in February 2003.

UN Security Council Resolution 1556 adopted on July 30 gives the Sudanese government 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed militias and restore security in Darfur, or face unspecified diplomatic and economic sanctions. Military intervention is also possible.

Hafez said UN intervention was necessary because the 22-member Arab League was unwilling to apply military and economic pressure against Sudan, a member state.

"The Arab League works in favour of Arab governments and not their people," he told IPS. "We saw this happen before in Iraq, and we're seeing it again in Sudan."

Arab League foreign ministers meeting in Cairo this month opposed any form of sanctions against Sudan. They agreed to send observers to monitor a ceasefire agreement between the Sudanese government and rebels, but rejected outright "any threats of coercive military intervention in the region."

Dr. Gehad Auda, a political strategist at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) in Abu Dhabi says that by rejecting UN Resolution 1556 the Arab League has "lost its moral stance" on other issues.

"Arabs always condemn Israel because it rejects UN resolutions and its army collaborates with settlers who want to take lands from their lawful owners," he said. "Yet that is exactly what is going on in Sudan right now."

More Muslims were killed in Darfur by Arab militias in the last year than have been killed by Israeli bullets since the start of the Palestinian Intifadah in September 2000. Arab silence on the atrocities against black African Muslims has led to charges of racism and genocide.

Auda says racism could be a factor behind the Arab League's foot-dragging, but said it was more likely that the organisation's internal conflicts were diluting the efforts of a handful of Arab states and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Disputes between League members have paralysed the organisation in recent years and left it unable to forge a united stand on many issues.

Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa has called for reform since taking office in 2001, stating that the Arab League should "be strong or not exist at all."

Auda described the 59-year-old Arab League as "weak and fragmented" and questioned its ability to take on a significant international role. "Arabs would like to be up to this role, but unfortunately it's obvious that they are not," he said. "Look who really takes the initiative on Darfur -- the West. The Arabs come late, are hesitant and don't even understand the facts."

Analysts suggest that Arab regimes may be afraid to apply pressure on Khartoum because it could weaken their own position.

"Some Arab governments have minority problems of their own, so they don't want international intervention," explains Moustafa Kamel al-Sayed, director of the Centre for Developing Country Studies in Cairo. "They are seeking international cooperation in Darfur and certainly don't want the UN to impose a solution."

Egyptian political analyst Hassan Abu Taleb believes that despite its inherent flaws, the Arab League is still up to the task. "If the Arab League is absent from this issue it will only make matters worse," he told IPS. He said the Khartoum government was suspicious of Western offers of assistance, but was less wary of offers from fellow Arab states.

Saudi Arabia has pledged 10.7 million dollars in humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the fighting in Darfur. Syria, Kuwait and Egypt have begun airlifting food shipments and providing medical assistance.

The Khartoum government has welcomed offers by the Arab League and the African Union to dispatch observers to monitor a ceasefire signed in April between the government and rebel forces. The blocs have also sent troops to protect the observers, but Sudan insists that only its own troops handle peacekeeping.

Western commentators have accused the Arab League of backing the Sudanese government, but Abu Taleb argues that cooperation with the Khartoum government is essential to achieving a peaceful resolution.

"You have to deal with the Sudanese government as a tool to solving the crisis," said Abu Taleb. "We have to help them, not punish them, because if we punish the government we will also be punishing the poor."

He said Western media was judging the situation in Darfur without understanding the complex background. The current fighting in Darfur reportedly stems from a long- running feud between Sudanese President Gen. Omar al-Bashir and jailed opposition Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi.

He accused Turabi's supporters of igniting the long-simmering conflict in Darfur as a way of increasing international pressure on al-Bashir's regime.

"We can't disarm the Janjaweed yet leave arms in the hands of the Darfuri rebels," he said. "This would only lead to more bloodshed."

More Information on the Security Council
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